Episode 130 – Suzanne Ort

Suzanne Ort

Suzanne Ort Suzanne Ort is a certified Aviculturalist and owns “Texas Natural Freeze Dried Products” where she provides high quality, nutritious freeze-dried foods for parrots and other small companion animals. She donates a percentage of sales throughout the year to various parrot rescue groups & helps promote parrot conservation efforts worldwide. Texas Natural Freeze Dried Products is a member of the National Parrot Rescue and Preservation Foundation.


Website: https://www.texasnaturalfreezedried.com/


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 Suzanne Ort is a certified agriculturalist and owns Texas Natural Freeze Dried Products, where she provides high quality, nutritious, freeze-dried foods for parrots and other small companion animals. She donates a percentage of sales throughout the year, to various parrot rescue groups and helps promote parrot conservation efforts worldwide. Texas Natural Freeze Dried Products is a member of the National Parrot Rescue and Preservation Foundation. 

Hey, Suzanne, thanks for coming on today. So you get to start us off and give us a little bit more about you and your background and what an agriculturalist is and all those kinds of things. So why don’t you start us off and tell us about you and how you came to where you are today. Hi. Well, I’m Suzanne and I was a public school teacher for about 23 years, and very unexpectedly we added a parrot, our family. She was a lost and found bird, and we were not able to find her owners. So she ended up joining our family. And after feeding her a couple of years, on just the standard pellet food that’s available at stores, I started doing some research on parrot nutrition and found that there was a healthier way to feed her. But it just wasn’t available in the stores. And so I started making my own bird food to feed her and all of my friends that also had parrots started asking for food. So it was kind of weird because my parrot loves pomegranates. So every year during pomegranate season, I would buy tons and tons of pomegranates and peel them and seed them and put all of the seeds in the freezer, so that she could have pomegranates year around. Well, my husband had been wanting to purchase a freeze dryer to freeze dry food, for us, for hiking and backpacking and stuff like that. So he used the bird as ammunition and convinced me that we could freeze-dry the pomegranate seeds first, when they were in season and then Prissy would have pomegranates year-round. And so that’s how everything started. And it just kind of took off from there. 

So now had you had parrots growing up? I mean, or your adult life? I mean, it sounds like Prissy just found you. Yes, she did. She found us and I knew zero about parrots. It took two days to even figure out what species of parrot she was. And she is an African Senegal. So they’re very small. They’re known to be very bipolar. They’re kind of a little crazy. And they have a really, really nasty bite. That’s kind of compared to a pitbull, where they just really, like, latch on and grind. They have, ah, heavy bite force. So once I started reading about the Senegals and I was like, Oh, so all of the parents we had to find, we got a bipolar one.. But Prissy’s really sweet. She’s a great bird. I think the way they just kind of over generalized them. It’s kind of like with the dogs with the pitbulls, you know? I mean, I think it’s a pretty nasty bite myself. Yeah, she’s a really sweet bird and she’s very demanding, but she changed our lives for sure. Yes, and then you knew nothing about parrots. Like, you said, just started researching. And you just kind of figured out that the food in the stores really, like a lot of the pet food stuff is not necessarily the best for their nutrition because parrots live a long time, don’t they? Right, right, 50 to 100 years easily if they’re, you know, healthy, if they’re taking care of. And yeah, most of the commercial parent foods are heat processed, and they have a lot of chemicals and dyes in them, and that’s not good for us. It’s not good for them. You know, we can’t live a healthy life if we eat Cheetos every day, right? So it’s kind of the same for them. They need a really healthy, diverse diet.

So I joined a couple of different Facebook groups, and my really go to group is the Avian Raw Whole Food Nutrition Group, which is lead by Dr. Jason Cream. He’s a biologist, and then he also consults with zoos and other animal speciality places, on their diets. And he’s very knowledgeable on Avian diets and he kind of, you know, really helped me to see what kind of diet Prissy should be on. And once she got a taste for the good stuff, she never turned back. Yes, no more pellets for her. She’s a whole food diet, every day, and it’s a lot of work. I mean, it’s easy to scoop out a scooper full of pellets and throw it in your birds’ bowl. But that’s not a complete diet. We can’t replicate the diet they would have in the wild. So we have to really do our best to offer dietary diversity, to satisfy their individual needs. And the best way to do that is with raw whole food. Right.

So I was going to say, what does a parrot eat like, what does her diet look like? What is the type of food then that you guys were helping to produce for other people? The best diets for them, it’s gonna be, you know, food, and it’s raw, whole form. This is the best way to cover all the bases. You really want to have a diet with a lot of bile availability, which means you want in a form that their body can readily process it and use it. You want it not to be lingering in their system. So you want to serve raw foods like fruits, veggies. They need oils. So you want to add maybe a little bit of coconut oil to their diet or some red palm oil. They do need seeds, nuts, lagoons. We also feed tea. We have an Avian tea that we feed to Prissy. So they should be mostly unprocessed foods with a big variety of different items. So Prissy gets the basis of her diet is our Chop. Which Chop is a blend of a lot of different fruits and vegetables chopped up. But, you know, we use a food processor, chop it up, and that’s a great basis for their diet. And then she also gets sprouts. She gets sweet potatoes for beta keratin. The sprouts are her source of protein. She gets a little bit of bee pollen every week. She gets her freeze-dried strawberries, that’s her little treat. She loves those. She has to have those every day and a high-quality seed blend. So that’s what she’s munching on right now. 

So then you figured it out through this process. Like you said and talking to your friends that, you know, everybody went, Hey, look, you’re going through that work. Just make a little extra for me, I’ll pay you for it. Yeah, that’s pretty much how it started. I was having a hard time getting Prissy to eat the chop because what most bird owners do is they make the chop in a big batch, and then they either freeze it in Ziploc bags or ice cube trays so that they can have it. You know, they don’t want to make the chop every single day. Sure, it’s a lot of work. So they would freeze it and then thaw it out. And what I heard from most people is the birds didn’t like it, thawed out. It was mushy, it was wet and the birds weren’t happy with it. So we had gotten our freeze drier to do the pomegranates. And I told my husband I said, “Hey, I wonder, you know, if Prissy would like this chop better if we freeze-dried it and made it crunchy and dry, you know, perhaps she would like it better. And sure enough she went right after it. The cauliflower freeze-dried is delicious. It tastes like sweet little chips and the freeze dryer, really intensifies the flavor of the foods and really brings the flavors out. And with freeze-drying, as opposed to dehydrating, you really lose very, very little of the nutritional content of the food. So it only loses like maybe 4%. So it maintains about 96%. That’s as good as you can get. Even just freezing foods loses more than that. So the freeze-drying is great for maintaining the nutritional content of the food, and it makes it in a form that, you know, sealed in the bag, it’s gonna last 20 years, so I can ship it to people all over the world. And it’s not gonna go bad during this shipment.

 So we started with our Chop blend, then started doing some different fruits. We freeze-dried apples. We do bananas. We do Starfruit, Guava. Oh, just almost any fruit you can imagine. We freeze-dry and have that in our shop. Just kind of have on hand. Right. Right. And then, as also, as well, like, I learned more nutrition-wise for the birds, like how important sprouts are to their diet. So we do sprouts. We freeze-dry sprouts for people. A lot of people are really intimidated by sprouting. They’re afraid they’re going to grow mold and hurt their bird or they don’t have time to sprout. But sprouts are just a perfect source of protein for the birds, so it’s a really important part of their diet. That’s probably our second biggest seller, is the sprouts. People just love to be able just to pour out those freeze-dried sprouts and serve it to their bird and not have to deal with the hassle of soaking it for 12 hours and then, you know, sprouting for a couple of days. You have to rinse the sprouts three times a day, and it’s a time-consuming process, so.

 Do you make all this in your kitchen at home? Or have you started a commercial kitchen now? Yeah, we have a commercial kitchen that we use, and all of our freeze dryers are there as well. So it is on our property, but it’s a separate building from our home. Got it. So far cry from being a school teacher. I mean, it sounds like you’ve learned as you’ve gone and now you’ve really hit on something that people really want. Right. We really started the very first thing we ever sold, I think was a bag of freeze-dried cinnamon apples. And that was about three years ago. And the lady that bought those apples is still one of our customers today, and that’s kind of our customer base is, I think 65% of it is all return customers. Once they get hooked on serving our foods and how easy it is, then they come back. They don’t want to go back and chop up vegetables, and that was really my goal when I started, was to get people off of the processed foods, get them onto a healthy food for their parrot. That is also easy for them to manage. It’s easy for them to serve their birds a healthy, wholefood diet. I think it’s really fascinating. You didn’t know anything about parents, right? One thing is, started kind of researching. Well, what am I gonna feed it? You realize that parrots need to eat a healthy lifestyle just like we do. You kind of give treats now and then, right? But the core of it and from there it became your passion and it became your business.

 Now, are you doing this full time now? Yes, it’s more than full time. I really need more hours in the day. I mean, when I was teaching and my husband was working for a blasting company, we took vacations twice a year, and we went hiking and were avid rock hounds and diamond mineral collectors. So we got to do that twice a year. Now when we have our vacation, last month we went to Houston for Parrot Fest. Spent the whole weekend selling parrot food and teaching people about parrot nutrition. So now pretty much our whole life revolves around the parrot and the parrot industry, and it is a passion. I mean, we started with one small freeze drier, and as the orders kept coming in, we’ve had to expand and expand and, you know, at the kitchen and different equipment. And now we run, you know, six large freeze dryers, 24/7 and that’s in a span of three years. That’s amazing. How do people find you? Mostly, it started through different parrot groups, Facebook groups, is how everything started. And it was very simple. I mean, you know, I would tell people you know, we didn’t have a website. We did have our Facebook page and we would just kind of tell people, you know, just tell me what you want. I’ll make a PayPal invoice and email it to you. And as it started getting more and more orders, I was just spending so much time, you know, invoicing everybody, that we did start the website and now you know, it’s just order’s just come in and it’s crazy. I mean, I think we sold 150 bags of sprouts in January alone. So that’s a lot of sprouts just to keep up. That’s a lot of, a lot of healthy food that birds were getting, when they probably used to get, you know, just pellets. And then we also have a full line of treats that are healthy treats for birds, that you can feel good about giving your bird every day.

 Our signature trade is called the Prissy Puff, and that’s named after our bird Prissy. Of course. Everybody loves it when we do the shows, because we take Prissy and they get to meet her, and it’s just really cute to see how people react to actually seeing her in person because she’s on all of our advertising. She’s the boss, yeah. We just work for her. I can see her going around, going, get back to work. Enough of this. She’s playing in her water bowl, right now, she’s having a bath. 

So one of the other things I want to point out and have you talk about, I mean, you’re a big believer in parrot rescue and giving back. So tell me about what you guys do on that front. We are very supportive of parrot rescue. One lady that I met shortly after we got Prissy, or Prissy came into our lives. Her name is Ginger DuPree. And she has a Senegal Parrot rescue in Arizona. So that is our favorite rescue because she does rescue mostly Senegals, which they do have a high turnover rate for being re-home because they are really, really bipolar. And they tend to really only bond with one member of the family. And so the other members of the family sometimes suffer bites or being attacked. And so they are rehomed quite often and her rescue focuses on Senegal Parrots. So we do support them a lot. We sponsor a bird there. So for $25 a month, you can sponsor a bird there that helps take care of their food and vet bills that may occur. So anybody can sponsor a bird at Ginger’s. She also has some cockatiels and some other just pretty much whatever birds need help in her area, so we sponsor a bird there. We send toys to their rescue. And we send food to that rescue. When we were at Parrott Fest, we were going to sell popcorn, but because we didn’t have a vendor’s license to sell food like that, we weren’t allowed to sell the popcorn at Parrot Fest. So we just put up a donation jar and gave popcorn away for donations, and then we took the donations and sent it to the rescue. So that’s one rescue that we help.

 We’re also involved with the National Parrot Rescue and Preservation Foundation, and they are dedicated to rescue rehabilitation and rehoming of parrots. They help abandoned or lost parrots. They get them healthy and get them socialized, help find a new home for them, and then they also help in cases of natural disasters, like Hurricane Harvey. There were a lot of parrots that were abandoned when people fled the hurricane. So we are involved with them. We, we’re a member of that organization. And then we also do, we donate a lot of items for their auctions and fundraising events. One other thing that we do, I think we have about 20 rescues listed on our website. We offer rescue boxes, where customers can go in, the rescues have handpicked different items that the birds and their rescues really like. And so we offer these boxes, of these items, at a significant discount. People can go on and purchase the box for whichever rescue they want to, and then we send that box directly to the rescue. Oh, I love that. What a great idea!. So, right. So we’re not really making a profit off of that. It just barely covers, you know, the product. And then we cover most of the shipping. And then we put in a little card in there that says, who purchased the gift for that rescue. So That’s another way that we try to really give back. Yeah, that’s a really great idea. That’s really awesome that you guys do that.

 Put it in perspective for me. How many parrot rescues are there out there? Oh, Gosh. Thousands. One rescue recently, they found a bird, the whole cage, and the bird was just thrown in a dumpster. People move out. They leave their birds behind. People die. They don’t have a plan in place for the care of their animal. And so the kids just dump the bird somewhere. I mean, it’s an epidemic. It’s crazy. It’s just really sad.

 So what’s on the docket for you? What’s 2020 look like? We are adding a whole new line of treats that are infused with Avian tea blends. And these will help with hormone behavior. Help with plucking, help with skin conditions. New supplements like that will be added to our product line. We’re also going to be in Utah, over the summer, in August. We’ll be attending the American Federation of Ava Culture. Their huge, yearly event will be in Utah this year, so we will be there for that and will continue our work with rescues. We’re going to really focus this year, one of our rescues that we’re going to be working with is the Bird Endowment. And this is a nonprofit that’s dedicated to the conservation of the endangered Blue Throated Macaws, in Bolivia. So we’re going to be sponsoring a nest box there in Bolivia, to help them support the breeding program there, for the endangered Blue Throated Macaw.

 Interesting, because I’m guessing that’s what people are, is that where a lot of the birds were sourced from, is different countries in the world? Yeah, that’s not really so much, as much now as it used to be because of the import laws, make it really hard to bring birds over, but they are losing their natural habitat So the Bird Endowment is putting up artificial nest boxes to encourage breeding. These birds were almost extinct, and I think last year they had, like, six chicks fledge. And I believe since they started, they’ve had 81 new chicks fledge since they started putting up the artificial nest boxes. So these birds are on their way back. They just need our help. So this is kind of our project for this year, along with our others. We do a lot of support for Martin’s Arc Rescue. We do Magnolia Exotic Bird Sanctuary. That’s another one that we work with quite a bit, as well as the Rhode Island Parrot Rescue. So we’re involved with a lot of different rescues, and we really try to, you know, help them as much as we can.

 You’ve had quite a journey just in the last couple of years in the parrot world. Is this how you thought things would turn out? No, it’s quite a shock as well, but it has been wonderful. I’ve met the best people, through different parrot groups and events that we attend. It’s always, you know, great to meet your customers. And it’s just been a wonderful journey, and I look forward to a lot more years. The bird family is just, it’s great.

I’ve really enjoyed talking to you today, Suzanne, and certainly will tell people about your website. TexasNaturalFreezeDried.com, and we’ll link to that in the show notes in that. Is there anything else you want to mention before we wrap things up today? Well, no, not really. Just if you’re interested in sponsoring a bird or making a donation to Ginger’s Parrots, you can check her out at GingersParrots.org or look on our website, and she’s a rescue to send a rescue box, too. We’ll be happy to do that. Yeah, I think that’s a great idea. And I’m really glad that you came on the show to talk to me today. Thanks for your time, Suzanne. Thank you. It was fun. 

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